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Bill to Fund Key Agricultural Programs in Maine Passes Senate

Washington, D.C. — U.S. Senator Susan Collins, a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, announced that the Senate advanced the fiscal year (FY) 2020 Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies funding bill by a vote of 84-9.  The legislation included provisions championed by Senator Collins to support potato and forest products research programs and lower the cost of prescriptions drugs.


“In addition to providing a safe and healthy food supply, Maine farmers sustain our rural communities, protect the environment, and preserve the open space that is a vital part of our heritage,” said Senator Collins.  “As a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, I worked hard to secure these provisions that will assist our farmers, invest in critical agricultural research, and support nutrition and rural development.  I am pleased that the final bill that passed the Senate by an overwhelming, bipartisan vote also includes my provisions to support our forest products industry and lower the cost of prescription drugs.”


The FY 2020 agriculture funding bill allocates $23.1 billion, an increase of approximately $58 million above last year’s funding level.  Provisions championed by Senator Collins to benefit Maine include:


U.S. Department of Agriculture:


·        Potato Industry: The bill includes $2.75 million for potato research grants, explicitly allows the use of potatoes in the National School Breakfast Program and includes $20 million for the Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Program , supporting the work of the University of Maine’s Cooperative Extension Potato IPM program.  Senator Collins opposed the Administration’s efforts to cut funding for programs like IPM that help farmers protect their crops from pests and diseases, explaining the necessity of such programs at a hearing on the USDA’s budget proposal earlier this year. 


·         School Equipment Grants: The bill includes $30 million for School Equipment Grants, following legislation introduced by Senators Collins and Tina Smith (D-MN) to help schools provide healthier meals to students across the country by establishing a grant, loan guarantee, and technical assistance program. 


·         Aquaculture: The bill includes a range of aquaculture-related funding, including $3 million to establish a new Aquaculture Experiment Station (modeled after USDA’s Agriculture Experiment Stations) to facilitate academia-industry partnerships to quickly resolve aquaculture bottlenecks and challenges to sustainable expansion. The bill also provides $1.2 million to support east coast shellfish breeding research through the hiring of a quantitative geneticist and a breeder, as well as biosecurity and facilities upgrades. Additionally, $1 million is included to expand USDA’s Precision Agriculture Initiative to aquaculture. This funding will support added research capacity to develop and deploy sensors, automated control systems, and artificial intelligence platforms that optimize management practices and land-based closed containment system infrastructure. Another $4 million is included for competitive grants that will support aquaculture disease and vaccine research.


·         Wheat, Barley, and Craft Brewing: The bill includes $15 million—an increase of $5.5 million above last year’s funding level—for the U.S. Wheat and Barley Scab Initiative, which is vitally important to Maine breweries -- enhancing product safety and supply by reducing the impact of scab (a fungal disease) on barley and wheat. The bill also provides $3.5 million—an increase of $1.5 million above last year’s funding level—for the Small Grains Genomic Initiative, which enhances genomic capabilities for public sector barley, oat, and wheat researchers and breeders and universities and Agricultural Research Service facilities.


·         Organic Agriculture: The bill includes $6 million for the Organic Transition Research Program, which will support the development and implementation of research, extension, and higher education programs to improve the competitiveness of organic livestock and crop producers. The bill provides an increase of $1 million for the National Organic Program, which establishes uniform organic standards, for a total of roughly $15 million. The bill also contains language critically important to small organic diary producers, directing the USDA to finalize its Origin of Livestock Rule. Many organic dairy stakeholders are concerned by the lack of uniform enforcement regarding the origin of livestock regulation, which was issued in 205. The regulation requires that milk sold as organic must come from animals that have been under continuous organic management practices for at least one year. Transition cows in and out of organic production is strictly prohibited, but many larger agribusinesses are doing this with no penalty. This creates an unfair advantage for farms that are exploiting this loophole, as farmers who raise their calves according to the organic standard from birth spend an estimated $600 to $1,000 more per calf than farmers who raise calves conventionally an transition them to organic at one year of age. The language that Senator Collins secured will ensure that USDA finalizes this rule and that our small organic dairy farms will not continue to be at a disadvantage simply for following the rules.


Food and Drug Administration:


·         E-Labeling of Pharmaceutical Inserts: The bill includes a provision authored by Senator Collins to block the FDA’s proposed e-labeling rule for prescribing information that would have allowed pharmaceutical companies to only distribute prescribing information electronically instead of using traditional paper inserts.  This misguided rule would negatively affect seniors, 90 percent of whom take at least one prescription drug in any given month.  Senator Collins secured similar provisions in the FY 2019 Appropriations Minibus, as well as the fiscal years 2017 and 2018 agriculture funding bills.


·         Promoting Biosimilar Competition and Transparency: The bill includes a provision authored by Senator Collins to help promote greater transparency in the development of biosimilar therapies by directing the agency to allocate sufficient resources to improve the “Purple Book,” which lists biological products, including any biosimilar and interchangeable biological products, licensed by FDA . Earlier this year, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee advanced major portions of the Biologic Patent Transparency Act, legislation introduced by Senator Collins and bipartisan group to require companies to publicly disclose the web of patents that protect their biologics, making it easier for competitors to evaluate and plan for the development of generic versions of these drugs.  It would also discourage late-filed patents and require the FDA to regularly publish information in its “Purple Book” on approved biologics, such as patents, exclusivity, and biosimilarity.  Senator Collins spoke from the Senate floor in March to urge her colleague to support this bipartisan bill.